Keeping It Real

August 23, 2012 / Signed/Unsigned

By Alex Reeves

Adam Berg tells us about the delicate balance between reality and fiction in this dystopian Toyota ad.

Car commercials are an interesting breed. While it’s easy to show off stylish curves, it’s a bit harder to show people that a car's fun to drive. Toyota’s latest ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, avoids the driving-over-mountains-into-an-intense-sunset approach this time in favour of something a bit different (although there are some mountains at the end).

Directed by Stink’s Adam Berg, the film tells the story of a man who’s sick of his tedious, empty, risk-free city life. He seeks escape and finds it in the form of an exhilarating drive in a car that’s far too real to be legal. We asked Adam how this world was built.

Product: Toyota GT86
Title: The Real Deal
Production Company: Stink
Director: Adam Berg
Production Company Producer: Ben Croker
Ad Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Creative Directors: Paul Silburn, Kate Stanners
Art Director: Andy Jex
Copywriter: Rob Potts
Agency Producer: Kate O’Mulloy
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Gus Herdman
Sound Company: Wave
Post Production Houses: Digital Domain, MPC

How do you think this film fits into the genre of car ads?

I think the car ads market is quite boring. The [car] must be driving down some kind of mountain road or whatever and that’s fine if they want to show their car off. But there are a few car ads that try and work in an idea about the car.

What I like most about this one is that the idea was not necessarily based around how amazing this car looks. It was just about the emotion: How it is to actually drive something and have to work it yourself – a kind of old school, physical way to treat cars, free from all this other bullshit – technology, driving about in a big computer.

How detailed was the idea when you first came to it?

It was well thought out. The idea that was talked around was how the world would be, what the attraction would be, how [the protagonist] would escape and where he found the car and all this kind of stuff. The structure was there but we came up with the detail together.

We wanted to push the perfection of this CG world because I didn’t really want it to be that he chooses to escape the world because it’s bad CG, like a pixelated world. I wanted it to be perfect looking – everyone is looking good, everyone is walking around, driving nice cars, living in nice houses, having a good time. You can see they own nice things but it’s kind of a cold, dead world.

How did you develop that into the finished film?

I wrote a script and we talked a lot about the visuals and how we would develop the CG because I’m not an animator in any way. I really wanted to do something where the CG was really good but I didn’t want it to look real. I still wanted it to feel like they were CG characters, so I wasn’t after Avatar or anything like that. Unlike Avatar we had a limited budget and especially limited time to do it in. So that was a challenge for us, with our partners, to come up with the level of CG that would tick all the boxes.

Having not done a lot of this kind of animation, what was the biggest challenge?

I’ve done it once before for Gears of War, which had all the characters, how everyone looks and the world and everything already pre-designed. For this, nothing was there so you have to start from scratch. You have to make up how the world looks, what time of day it is, how the sunshine hits. If you walk out on a shoot it’s like “OK. Today it’s cloudy and the sun is over there and here’s a big tree. Cool. Let’s shoot.”  To create that yourself is great but it takes much more time because you need to think about every little detail that you would normally take for granted.

We were lucky to partner up with Digital Domain because they’ve done so much stuff they had a lot stuff in their library – buildings, streets, bars, people and all this stuff for us so we could almost pick from a catalogue what we thought would work. Then we put together a lot of references for lighting – for how the city should look. I think Dubai and Hong Kong were our biggest influences on the city’s look [because] they look kind of futuristic, but not overly so.

Did you use video games for references or inspiration?

References – yes, inspiration – not so much. We used video games as a way to determine the level of CG. A very important part of the process was that we went out and shot the whole film with a real car. When you look at these video games and things that are all done in CG things aren’t necessarily moving that realistically. Underneath the carriage the car isn’t really turning, cranking. You don’t really know how a car looks when it’s making a hard left. The top of the car is bending over the wheels, the wheels are turning in a certain direction, there’s smoke coming from somewhere. There are all these things that you need to see to think of because you’re not smart enough (or at least I’m not) to know all that.

So to make a world that is meant to look fake, you had to put a lot of research into making it look real?

Well, we wanted the car to be realistic because we wanted him to find a real car to escape [in]. He goes to this dealer who deals in real contraband and that’s where he finds the car that takes him away to escape into reality. There are few bits and pieces that he found in that warehouse that are real – the car, the hamburger the guy’s eating, the plant.

A lot of the films you make are heavily reliant on visual effects. Would you say that's your speciality?

A lot of my stuff probably looks more post-produced than it actually is. A lot of things have quite simple solutions to them or are just camera tricks. I try to shoot as much as possible in camera because reality is always better. For instance, with this film it’s a filmed car and the characters are motion captured. I’ve done a lot of normal stuff but that was long ago and my reel has developed into what it is now, which I don’t mind. I enjoy the challenge of doing complicated stuff. I like the process of working out how to do stuff that you don’t really know how to do.

Would you say the Philips Carousel ad was that turning point for your career?

Yes, for sure. It’s funny because everyone thinks that’s so heavily post-effected but it’s not. Almost everything in that film is just filmed with a normal moving camera and no trickery involved at all. Post more or less just took away how we did it rather than make it. It was already there.


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